MIND THE GAP: IN SEARCH OF TRUE ACADEMIC GLOBALIZATION

I’m starting here a long overdue reflection on the invisibility of second-language Literature teachers in the academic world where we supposedly belong. I am actually drafting an essay which has been spinning around in my head since I started preparing the science fiction course I am going to teach next Spring (see the syllabus at https://gent.uab.cat/saramartinalegre/content/teaching-0). My worries do not concern only SF, as I will show, though SF tends to stress a situation on which, judging from my quick bibliographical search today, nobody has written. (Well, there’s a doctoral dissertation from the Universidad de Sevilla I need to check…).

It’s the typical problem. I teach, as my readers know, ‘Victorian Literature.’ It took me a while to find an introductory volume which second-year, second-language students would find accessible: Maureen Moran’s Victorian Literature and Culture (Continuum, 2006). In my time I went through the whole Penguin Guide to English Literature, which accompanied me, one volume at a time, through the years of my ‘Licenciatura.’ Whether I think of this multi-volume text or of Moran’s slim, slick presentation of the Victorians, the problem is the same: they have not been written for us, foreign students of Anglophone culture.

Now, there are two perspectives on this. Either the world-wide academic market treats all persons interested in English Studies as if we were, in practice, honorary Anglophones. Or, as I suspect, they do not acknowledge we exist. You might think that a) a market flooded by titles such as English Literature for Italians or American Culture for the Japanese would make little sense, or b) we, the foreigners, should provide the comparative, culturally adapted materials our students require. Option b) sounds very nice to me but we just don’t write these materials for lack of time (and of academic incentive as they ‘do not count’ for research assessment). We make do with what British and American printing presses produce.

The bibliography I have come across mostly considers the teaching and learning of foreign Literature within the pedagogical practice connected with EFL. Although I know very well that I work in a second-language environment, and I am certainly well aware of the difficulties my students experience in reading, speaking and writing in a foreign language, the funny thing is that at the same time I must pretend to be a fully functional native speaker for the purposes of publication.

I do not mean that I pass myself off as a native Anglophone, though I could–aided by simply suppressing the accent on top of the í in Martín. No, what I mean is that if I try, say, to publish in the Shakespeare Quarterly, I will be competing with the ‘real thing,’ with the native speakers, which means that I will have to sound linguistically and culturally impeccably not me. Actually, I have started adding footnotes commenting on my own origins and position, as I was recently mistaken for an Anglophone by the editor of one of my recent articles–to my chagrin, as the point I was making is that foreign cultures have much to say about Anglophone culture.

Now, take the case of SF, which is now occupying my energies. I have gone through six handbooks, apart from the few introductions I already knew, before selecting for my students The Science Fiction Handbook (Nick Hubble & Aris Mousoutzanis, eds., 2006). Again, the criterion I have used is accessibility. And clarity. By this I mean that the other volumes, though very good, included a staggering amount of literary theory which our local students simply cannot grasp, as their energies are not 100% devoted to studying English (a degree about Literature) but English (the language).

I asked one of the authors whose introduction I read, Brian Baker, of Lancaster University, and his view was that local English students are not as sophisticated as I assumed theory-wise. I still fail to understand when they learn all that theory. Baker was very much surprised when I told him that I might be the second person in Spain (after my colleague Pere Gallardo in Tarragona) to teach a BA-level course in SF, at least within English Studies (anyone who knows differently, please let me know). That’s not possible, he told me, college courses in SF have been taught in the USA regularly since 1960s. Oh, well…

So, let me recap: here I am planning a course on SF for my local Catalan/Spanish students and I need help from those who have been teaching the stuff for decades. I read, finally, Teaching Science Fiction edited by Andy Sawyer and Peter Wright (2011) and, again, the same problem–their context is not my context, the proposed reading list is impossibly long for my students, the theory much more than I can fit in one semester, there is not any comment on second-language teachers and/or learners.

There is an article by Elizabeth Ginway, which catches my attention: “Teaching Latin American Science Fiction and Fantasy in English: A Case Study.” I email her to ask, please, which degree her students are taking, as she does not say, and why she is using translation. Her reply is “The essay collection is directed towards the English-speaking population of the United States and United Kingdom. I teach SF in both Spanish and Portuguese, but I did not publish on that because it is not much help to those who do not speak those languages.” This, as we say in Catalan, ‘makes my head dance’ (or spin). Later she very kindly emailed me the syllabi for her Spanish and Portuguese-speaking students.

When I was an undergrad I noticed that in the field of Spanish Literature foreign specialists were as prominent and respected as native Spanish-speaking academics. I failed to notice, though, in my naivety, that the foreign academics I was asked to read were all Anglophone and working in American and British universities. I assumed back in the 1980s that foreign academics working on Anglophone culture would be similarly visible for Anglophone students but this is not at all the case.

Possibly the most spectacular exception within SF is that of Croatian Darko Suvin, one of the biggest names in the field. Suvin, however, did not make his name working from his home-town Zagreb but after becoming Professor at McGill University in Montreal. So, there you are: there is still a long way to go for true academic globalization to happen…

Comments are very welcome! (Thanks!) Just remember that I check them for spam; it might take a few days for yours to be available. Follow on Twitter the blog updates: @SaraMartinUAB. See my publications and activities on my personal web https://gent.uab.cat/saramartinalegre/

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